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Marketing, Professional Development

Monday’s Social Media Outage Underscores the Importance of a Direct Connection to Your Customers

Develop customer connections outside of social first to limit the risks of using third-party platforms. Owned channels create strong relationships with your most ardent fans.

Social media platforms are the lifeblood of many a business. They help us connect with fans, communicate with customers, educate potential clients, generate leads, even provide services and facilitate sales.

So what do you do when major platforms break? The outage on Monday disrupted business for several hours across four major connected platforms, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger. The lesson here is to prioritize the development of channels that you control.

First, Keep it in House

Cultivating an internal database or using a CRM (customer relationship management) system is paramount. This is a common tool among larger businesses, but many smaller businesses neglect to transfer customer information from the point of sale or customer inquiries into an organized system to keep track of potential, current, and past customers. Keeping this data in-house ensures you don’t lose your customer base.

Optimize your website and/or blog. Make your website a source for useful content and visitors will come back to you again and again. Case in point, Hubspot.com, whose blogs, case studies, and guides create value for marketers and businesses, whether they are clients or not. Hubspot encourages connection by emailing new content to subscribers consistently and linking back to their site. If you rely on a Facebook page instead of a website, you are putting your business at risk of having no platform. If you don’t want to update your website weekly or create content, at least display your social media feeds there and do give it a refresh and check links quarterly. Better yet, hire someone to create great content and do it consistently.

The lesson here is to prioritize the development of channels that you control.

Your email list is a pipeline to fans who want to hear from you directly. This is a more personal connection than your following on social media. Provide the value people are looking for and deliver it to them directly to their email address. You and the subscriber control what gets seen instead of the algorithm of a third-party platform. The average reach of an organic post on Facebook is only around 5% of your followers!

Consider a newsletter format with stories that solve problems, or provide useful information, or give readers the inside scoop on new offerings. For some businesses, deals and sales will be enough, but these can quickly be deleted if customers tire of the constant self-promotion. There are plenty of companies that help you manage subscribers and create great-looking email very easily, with plans that range from free to paid as you ramp up. Just be sure your subscribers have opted in, and can opt out when they like.

Don’t overlook the power of old-fashioned direct mail. You have probably noticed that your mailbox has a lot more packages and a lot fewer envelopes in it these days. Receiving a postcard, letter or catalog is more intriguing than it used to be and can still get you noticed. Your message should be compelling and targeted to people who are likely to read mail. You can track orders in your CRM and figures out who responds to direct mail to target future mailings. Companies like Bath and Body Works and Oriental Trading use direct mail to generate repeat sales successfully.

Other brands may benefit from SMS, or text-based communication, particularly if your customer base is younger. This is another powerful strategy becuase you reach fans in the palm of their hand. From here, it is an easy jump to message you or shop online. Customers opt in and can opt out when they like. You control the distribution and message.

Mobile apps connect you to your most ardent fans and allow you to provide notifications and a seamless experience from in-store to online shopping and communication. From groceries to home improvement to personal training to entertainment, apps can be creatively adapted for many types of businesses. They are also used to facilitate loyalty programs. How many of you have earned points or free food at your favorite brands using an app?

Then, Get Listed Where People Will Look

Google Search captures about 90% of global search engine traffic, so start here. Claim and optimize your Google My Business listing and provide all the information customers need to know about you. Encourage reviews and provide good quality photos to enhance your listing. From here you can branch out into third-party listings and partner sites that customes may turn to for information. If you are a local business, look to your local Chamber of Commerce, business district or Convention & Visitor’s Bureau websites and directories. If you are online business, look for sites that list and review similar offerings. Start with those that are free and credible.

Lastly, Develop Content on other Platforms

Create content, or repurpose the content you are already providing in your owned channels (blog, newsletter, email), that can be shared on outside platforms, particularly social media. You will need to adapt your messaging to suit the channels you choose. Focus on those that feel natural to your brand and that you have enough resources to do well with. Map out the reasons why you have chosen the channel and how it fits into your marketing strategy.

You will need to appoint a social media manager at the very least, and serious efforts may require hiring or outsourcing the services of writers and graphic designers and strategists. In all cases, use the platform to capture leads and contact information directly.

Depending on your customer needs you could choose a few options:

  • Media channels (YouTube)
  • Communication channels (Discord or Slack Channels)
  • Forums and Q&A Sites (Reddit, Quora)
  • Thought Leadership (Twitter, LinkedIn, Medium)
  • Mature Social Channels (Facebook, Instagram)
  • Developing Social Channels (Snapchat, TikTok, Clubhouse)

All of these channels come with lots of potential, but some serious risk. There are platform rules, algorithms and idiosyncracies to learn. Outages can and do occur as we saw recently. The content you create can be banned or deleted. You do not own your followers. Use these tools to develop brand awareness and stay in the conversation, but treat them as a way to bring customers into your own ecosystem of owned media channels.

Originally published on LinkedIn October 6, 2021

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